Study Finds Therapy Can Heal Trauma-Related DNA Damage

A distressed young many speaks to a counselorIn debates over the relative roles of nature and nurture in human behavior, debaters frequently forget that nature and nurture act directly on one another. This means separating nature from nurture is not always easy, and is sometimes even impossible. Over the past several years, for example, mounting evidence suggests that trauma can alter DNA. These changes affect behavior and can lead to symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTSD), depression, and other mental health difficulties.

According to a new study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, therapy doesn’t just help trauma survivors recover; it may actually reverse trauma-related genetic changes.

Trauma, DNA Breakage, and Therapy

Previous research has found that trauma survivors face an increased risk for diseases such as cancer. This may be because stress undermines DNA repair and leads to DNA breakage. To study the effects of trauma on DNA breakage, researchers compared 34 people with PTSD to 31 people without PTSD. In the non-PTSD group, 11 participants had experienced trauma, but these participants did not develop PTSD. The group with PTSD had a higher rate of DNA breakage than the control group, suggesting that symptoms of PTSD might be due to changes in DNA.

In a second study, researchers evaluated 38 people with PTSD, randomly assigning them to either undergo narrative exposure therapy or wait for therapy on a wait list. Researchers followed up with participants twice—four months and one year after completing therapy. The group that underwent therapy saw a reduction in PTSD symptoms, in addition to an improvement in DNA breakage. These results suggest that therapy can fix or prevent DNA damage, and that at least some symptoms of PTSD might be due to changes in DNA.

Whether you’re struggling with PTSD or another condition, therapy can help. This study is one of many that show the effectiveness of therapy. For help finding a therapist in your area, click here.

References:

Traumatic stress may affect DNA, but psychotherapy may heal it. (2014, October 27). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/284410.php

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  • Harold C.

    Harold C.

    October 28th, 2014 at 10:18 AM

    In my head I always separate the two things out, physical health versus mental health, never really understanding how much impact one can have with the other.

  • Joel

    Joel

    October 28th, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    I have to say that this fascinates me. I am always interested in how the numerous systems of the body find a way to work together in ways that we may not even think is possible and yet then it happens and the amazement and the wonder never ceases.

  • Liza

    Liza

    October 29th, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    This is the first time that I have read something about the DNA changes that one can undergo that I actually understood. I guess after reading this I can finally conclude that it is the stress associated with an event like this that is the trigger for the damage by simply not allowing the body to regenerate and heal in the way that it normally would in a healthy body. I think that I finally get it now!

  • Diana A

    Diana A

    February 13th, 2015 at 9:50 PM

    Therefore, early intervention is crucial and ethical. We can start with the very young, do good play and art therapy and give the child a chance for a better existence in spite of what trauma they have experienced. And never overlook the value of the relationship with a therapist as part of the healing!

  • Jessi

    Jessi

    April 6th, 2015 at 5:02 AM

    This is interesting being a psychology major and someone who has PTSD.

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